Is there more to rest than guilt?


When you think about taking a moment to rest, you feel guilty and worry that you might be lazy. There are better ways to spend your time, and honestly, you have a hard time relaxing anyway. But in the back of your mind, you’re thinking that it might be nice and you’ve been pretty stressed lately. Now you’re caught between two warring sides and unsure what to do. What if you rest, and it’s a waste of time that leaves you feeling worse? But what if you could rest, guilt free, with the knowledge that in some ways, you are being productive?

With busy schedules and high expectations for achievement, rest seems to be at the very bottom of our long to-do lists, if it even makes it on there at all. To clarify,  I’m not talking about sleep (which is also super important but just not the subject today) but the art of doing nothing. Relaxing. Taking time to ourselves. Chilling out.

I often hear these phrases associated with guilt and some less than desirable adjectives such as, lazy and selfish. In our society that is always plugged-in and ready to go, we feel like we need to be too. If we aren’t being productive, we’re failing in some way.

But what if rest is essential to our well-being and our ability to be our best selves? I certainly think there is an argument to be found for not worrying about being productive, and finding peace in doing nothing, but that’s for another time. Today, all we have to wrap our brains around is the idea that rest might be productive.

Let’s take a look at some benefits of rest:

  • Reduces stress : This is a big deal, because we know that  stress can take a serious toll on our bodies and health. People with high levels of stress are at a higher risk of anxiety, depression, the use of poor coping skills (substance use, for example),  digestive problems, headaches, and poor sleep. Chronic stress has also been linked to things like heart disease and a decrease in immune system functioning. Unfortunately, that’s not even the whole list of possible concerns. As a side note to anyone who got stressed reading that, know that not all stress is bad and it’s normal to have some amount of stress in our lives, it’s just important that we manage it!

  • Improves emotional well-being: There are two parts to this one. First, We’re much better at managing our emotions when we’re feeling balanced and rested. When we push ourselves to constantly be going and achieving, we tend to get frazzled and eventually, pretty dang tired. It’s so much harder to be our pleasant selves when we’re exhausted. Secondly, on top of being able to manage our emotions better, we just feel better. When we’ve taken the time to relax and unwind our mood is better overall.

  • Improves our relationships: When we’re running on empty, we’re less patient with those around us. We might feel resentful of helping others or take our frustrations out on the people we love most. However, if we’ve taken the time to invest in ourselves by resting, we become much more prepared to engage with the people around us in a positive and happy manner.

  • Body recuperates from physical activity: Any exercise or physical activity that we do needs to be balanced with rest. Exercise puts stress on our body and rest gives the body the time it needs to replenish and rebuild. Without rest, we’re more likely to suffer from injuries. Not to mention, our bodies just don’t feel as well. They may be tired, achey, and painful.

  • Leads to creativity: Sometimes I hear people say “I’m not creative,” but I think we all have creativity inside of us! When we have downtime, it allows our mind to wander and think of new things. Maybe this creativity comes in the form of a beautiful piece of artwork or maybe it’s a solution to a problem that you have been struggling to solve. Either way, our mind can come up with some pretty awesome stuff when it has time to be still.

  • Increases productivity: Okay, so for those of you worried about being productive all the time - did you know that you will actually be much more productive at your tasks if you’re well rested? When we haven’t taken time to recharge, we’re less effective at getting things done. Our brains and body become lethargic, it’s like trying to do everything through a fog. You’ll actually get things done faster and do it better if you give yourself some free-time!

So that’s a pretty impressive list. To sum it up, rest helps us feel good and improves our ability to function in our day-to-day lives. We’re able to do things we love with less effort and increased efficacy, our health improves, and our relationships likely benefit given that we’re able to regulate our emotions and have energy to think of others.  

Despite all this evidence, sometimes taking time for ourselves feels impossible. It’s hard to sit-back and enjoy some down-time when we’re feeling guilty and telling ourselves we “should” be doing something else more productive. And if we aren’t being productive, others might think we’re lazy or self-indulgent

But here’s the thing: When we don’t take time to relax, we tend to become the thing we’re so scared of being in the first place. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we’re exhausted and overworked we’re more likely to be irritable and resentful, our work quality decreases, and overall, we feel crappy. We’re less engaged in life and spend more time thinking about what has to be done. We actually enjoy life more when we take time for a little R&R. Crazy, right?!

So, is rest productive? To me, the evidence strongly points to a firm yes. And if that’s the case, I’m here to challenge anyone who struggles with taking time to rest, to reframe how you think about it. “Rest is productive. By taking time for myself I will be better at everything else I do.”Maybe the next step is to enjoy downtime without thinking of it in terms of being productive, but for now, reframing is a great place to start!

Contact us here to speak with us and find out how one of our therapists can help you find rest without the guilt.